SUP Yoga in Croatia

You may remember that last October, I headed out to the island of Vis, Croatia to teach on a week long yoga retreat with the team at SummerSalt Yoga.

Well, lucky me, earlier this year, they invited me back to participate in their newly launched SUP yoga retreats, this time from the perspective of a guest.

Here’s what went down…

(July 2016)

I arrived to the island late Saturday evening to the welcoming warm ocean breeze, a slight contrast to the rainy welcome on my visit first visit back in October. I greeted Mario like an old friend and was driven up to the villa above Vis town along with some of the other guests. My friend Vicky was already tucked up in bed and so after catching up on the gossip, we soon dozed off to sleep seemingly to awaken just a couple of minutes later, ready for our first class of the week. But not before I’d glimpsed out of our bedroom window at the stunning sight below.

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Each day began at around 7:30am with a warming and gentle Vinyasa flow on the rooftop, led by our lovely teacher Vanessa Fleming. At 8:15, we’d swap our yoga wear for swim wear and the rooftop for the beach, strolling down leisurely with our paddles and fins, ready to greet Mario who would be waiting with the boards. Having tried SUP a couple of times in the Philippines, I was quietly confident about the SUP yoga but I soon realised that standing on the boards and then moving through asanas on the board were two different things entirely! It was certainly a great workout though, firing up every muscle and getting our metabolisms going ready for the epic breakfast Milda was lovingly preparing back at the villa. Class complete, we hopped in the minibus back up the hill – a necessary trip despite the proximity to town, especially after all that exercise!

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Breakfast was a nice leisurely affair as we filled our bellies and got to know the other guests. Then the plans for the day would be set, whether a trip down to the stunning Stiniva beach, a boat trip to the Blue Cave or a free day to wander around the town drinking coffee and browsing in the stores at the local delicacies. Vis is a bit different from some of the other islands in Croatia. A lot of the typical ‘Brits abroad’ (and Aussies and Kiwis) have chosen Croatia as the latest partying destination, and it’s easy to see why with all the festivals, yacht parties and the endless sunshine on offer. But Vis has still remained a little unspoilt treasure, tucked away from all the action, so although there are a few tourists wandering around, you still feel like you’re getting a real taste of island life.

Gate-crashing the party

Despite being on a yoga retreat, the vibe was definitely one of embracing all that was one offer and so when Milda mentioned that she might be able to get us on the guest list for a yacht week party in Fort George, of course we jumped at the chance!

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The setting was stunning, the music had us busting out the moves, not really caring that the rest of the party-goers were a little more refined, and with a few gin and tonics making me merry I could have happily stayed all evening dancing the night away in my own little bubble of happiness. But the others weren’t enjoying the atmosphere quite as much as me and so when the bus arrived around 1:30am, we hopped on board and headed back home to bed. I was anticipating hitting snooze on my alarm the next morning but I was still high on endorphin’s from the previous night and post-yoga, we had even more excitement to look forward to as I was finally going to get to visit the beautiful blue caves.

Our skippers helped us to carry on the party, blasting out the music as we bounced up and down with the waves and ventured out to the caves. When we arrived at the mouth of the cave, the skipper shouted ‘DUCK’ and we quickly we curled up into little balls before squeezing through the tiny gap to get into the cave. Photos just can’t do this place justice and it’s worth putting the camera down for one of those rare moments when you just want to take it all in without the distraction of a lens. After a circle of the cave, we each hopped off the back of the boat and decided to swim our way back out, trying with a little more energy than anticipated to fight the current to get back on the boat and again jet off to another stunning beach,Bisevo. Here we spent the afternoon eating and swimming off the excess of the previous night before.

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After the day’s activities, we would head to the rooftop for a gentle Yin practice, or even better, back onto the SUP boards to thoroughly relax as we bobbed along with the waves and listened to the sound of the church bells reminding us it was time to wake up from Savasana and head back home for another delicious dinner.

As if the rooftop wasn’t an idyllic setting enough, we also had an evening practicing on the roof of Fort George one evening, the class ending just in time for us to watch the most stunning sunset over the water. A slightly different experience than the previous evening of partying at the Fort, but equally as fun!

As ever, dinner was one of my favourite times of day. We’d sit down as a group on our outdoor patio and enjoy whatever culinary delight Milda had prepared for us that day – from black bean Mexican chilli one evening to peach, brie and walnut topped bread bites for lunch, all the way through to the Indian inspired spinach curry – the food NEVER gets boring. And when you’re doing that much exercise, it’s only right to fuel your body with extra nourishing portions right?! But it was the social aspect of dinner that made it all the more pleasurable with trips to Roki’s local taverna and post-class dinner at Fort George offering a change of scenery mid-week.

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As if two visits to this wonderful island weren’t enough, I’m already on countdown until I return this September 17th-24th for the Balance Yoga retreats. I will be leading the morning classes in the Vinyasa style of yoga, alongside Vanessa Fleming who will be taking us through a restorative Yin practice in the evenings. If you fancy joining me, here’s everything you need to know.

A week long yoga retreat (in pictures)

On October 9th, I packed my bags and left my London life behind for a week teaching yoga on the beautiful island of Vis in Croatia.

The journey didn’t come without its challenges but overall it was a week of sunshine (mostly), new friends, meditation, Vinyasa yoga, Yin yoga and of course, some poolside posing.

Here’s what we got up to with the wonderful team at Croatia-retreat.com...

Saturday

The group arrived late in the evening so amidst a power outage, a heavy shower of rain and a warm welcome from the retreat hosts Mario and Milda, I took the time to calm a mix of nerves and excitement by reading a book by one of my favourite inspirational yogis, Rachel Brathen.

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Sunday

Day one of classes, we started off with a high energy Vinyasa class followed by a delicious and healthy breakfast. The sun was still hiding so after we’d eaten, Mario took us into the town of Vis to learn a little about the history as we got snap-happy with all the beautiful rustic buildings.

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We wrapped up the day with a meditation in the cosy studio, each praying for some sunshine so that we could venture outside for class the next day.

Monday

Still a little chilly in the morning, I led the class through another powerful Vinyasa sequence, building the pitta (fire) energy with a good few rounds of sun salutations to warm our bodies up from the inside out.

Thankfully the sun gods had heard our prayers the night before and by the time we’d wrapped up breakfast, the golden rays were out in force. We wasted no time at all donning our swimwear as we huddled into the minivan and on to Stiniva beach where we took a short hike down the steep mountainside to reach the pebbly beach where we were delighted with this stunning view…

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Post-swim, we played around with some Acro moves and attracted the attention of some other travelers who were soon joining in the fun.

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With the sun still shining brightly that evening, we decided to make the most of it and took our Yin yoga practice outside to the poolside, warming up first with some chanting along to Deva Premal and Mitel’s ‘Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu‘. For many of the guests, it was their first time chanting but it seemed to go down well as requests were made the next day for more of the same.

Tuesday

Despite the seemingly easy trek down the mountain the day before, some of us were feeling surprisingly achy the next morning so we used the first class of the day to focus on opening up the hips to relieve any tightness before we headed off on another adventure with our hosts, this time to the picturesque town of Komiza.

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Wednesday

As with most things in life, where there is light, there is darkness to be found too. After three days of bliss and harmony, the muggy humid weather seemed to have had a little too heated effect on one of the guests culminating in a fiery outburst “It’s too hot, no?” during our morning Vinyasa class, catching the class mid-flow and bringing us all to a grinding halt. Another student started shouting out advice and I knew I needed to take control of the situation quickly before it ruined the experience for the rest of the class. Thankfully we were able to continue, bringing the energy back up and ending on a high note but the shock was still with me and I had to take a moment to myself to let go and take in a valuable lesson from the morning.

Wednesday

No matter how others act, we can only be in control of our own reactions. Rather than fighting fire with fire, I took the choice to come at the situation with love and it paid off, as the rest of the day only brought us back into harmony, culminating in a beautiful relaxing Yin Yoga class, opening up the seven chakras (energy centres along the spine) in our evening class, paying particular attention to the heart chakra 😉

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Thursday

The rain came down again on the Thursday and thankfully the humidity went down with it. We took a slower pace in our morning Vinyasa class, choosing instead to hold the poses for longer to build heat in a different way. Post-class we enjoyed another delicious, healthy meal and that let our creative juices flow with an afternoon of art therapy with the lovely Milda.

 

I’d bought an adult colouring book earlier in the year and was loving the relaxing quality of becoming absorbed in creating beautiful images on the page, but post-class I could feel that my body wanted to get moving so I donned my new trainers and took off for a speedy walk towards the beach. As soon as I stepped out of the villa, the ideas came flooding in and I scrapped my original evening plans for class, instead opting to take the group on a Mindful walk around the garden, followed by an energy-boosting dance outside the studio, before eventually winding down with a relaxing Yin practice, focusing on digestion as we were all still getting used to our new healthier diet.

Friday

Our final day with the group and thankfully the sun came out to make it one of our best days yet. We practiced Vinyasa outside by the pool, turning our faces to the sun as we twisted our bodies in crescent lunge twist and prayer twist. We guzzled up breakfast, then switched yoga gear for swimsuits as we played by the pool, sunbathing, reading and taking photos of some of our favourite yoga poses.

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But it’s not all yoga, yoga, yoga despite what the title might suggest. We were on holiday after all and so for our final lunch together we convinced Milda and Mario to drop the aprons and join us for a lunch of freshly caught fish, Mediterranean vegetables and of course a glass or two of bubbly Prosecco at a restaurant in town.

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Another evening Yin class and it was with great sadness that we waved goodbye to the guests who were departing early Saturday morning.

Milda and Mario are currently working on plans for the 2016 yoga retreats but keep your eye on Croatia-retreat.com for updates. Hopefully I’ll be joining them again on the wonderful island of Vis.

Namaste.